Canada-China Deals Draw Cheers, Boos Chretien Returns with Fistful of Infrastructure Contracts

Article excerpt

CANADA'S top salesman - Prime Minister Jean Chretien - has just finished barnstorming across China on a trade trip that has irritated human-rights activists and enthused Canadian executives as the deals pour in.

This week, Canadian executives and Chinese officials signed 54 contracts and agreements in principle valued by Canadian officials at $8.6 billion (US$6.3 billion). The gold prize appeared to come on Tuesday when China signed a memorandum of understanding toward the purchase of two Canadian-designed nuclear reactors worth $3.5 billion.

Standing on the steps of China's Great Wall, Mr. Chretien told a gaggle of Canadian reporters that the deals from the trip would create thousands of jobs in Canada, where the unemployment rate is 10 percent.

"If you compare the level of activity that we will generate with {that of} any trip organized by any other nation, we will have done extremely well," the prime minister said.

China is one of the world's hottest export markets, with an economy growing at a rate of 10 to 15 percent annually. But until recently, Canadian businesses have not had much success getting a foot in the door. China had more direct investment in Canada at the end of 1993 ($378 million), than Canada had in China ($260 million).

From the start of the trip, Canada wanted to show the Chinese that it is serious. Chretien's huge "Team Canada" tour has involved an entourage of more than 350 business leaders, as well as nine out of 10 Canadian provincial premiers. Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau did not go. Reportedly, the massive showing impressed Chinese leaders.

"Today marks a new era in Canada-China trade relations," Chretien exulted after the deals were penned. "This catapults trade with China into new levels."

Among the announced deals:

* Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the government-owned corporation, signed a pact with China National Nuclear Corp. that AECL officials say will lead to "serious negotiations" on the sale of two 700 megawatt nuclear reactors. Early reports misconstrued the signing as a commercial contract.

* Canadian Agra Corp. …